The Nicene Prayer

The language of the Creed was not formed into a prayer like the rest of Mass



Every act of faith, including prayer, terminates not in a proposition or an abstract concept but in the living God. We pray to Him. (In contrast, recall how in the secular realm we often hear, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” or we are exhorted to give thanks on Thanksgiving Day, but seldom is it stated to Whom our prayers are addressed or to Whom we give thanks.)

With this in mind, I considered the words with which we recite the Nicene Creed. In the Creed, we do not address God. Rather, we talk about God.

The Nicene Creed is, of course, a creed, a statement, a declaration. I know that the phrasing of the truths in the Nicene Creed developed over time, amidst great controversy and hardship and civil and ecclesiastical unrest, into the form adopted at the Council of Nicaea (hence its name) in 325 A.D. So, there is a huge presumption against changing any words. On the other hand, when the Creed was incorporated into the Mass, its phraseology did not conform to the phraseology of the rest of the Mass.

It was over 200 years before the Creed was incorporated into the Mass. Here is one author’s summary of how that happened:

The Nicene Creed did not become a part of Mass until the early 6th century, when Patriarch Timothy of Constantinople started the practice to combat heresy. Its popularity spread throughout the Byzantine Empire, then to Spain, France and northern Europe. In 1114 Emperor Henry II, who had come to Rome for his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor, was surprised that they did not recite the creed. He was told that since Rome had never erred in matters of faith there was no need for the Romans to proclaim it at Mass. However, it was included in deference to the new emperor and has pretty much remained ever since – not at daily Mass, but on Sundays and feast days. (“The Nicene Creed and Its Origins,” Catholic News Herald, July 28, 2016. See also Theodor Klauser, A Short History of the Western Liturgy, second edition, 1979, p.77.)

Simply put, a creed is not a prayer. And, when the Nicene Creed became part of Mass, its language was not altered, even ever so slightly, to form it into a prayer, like that of the rest of Mass. The Mass is one prayer after another. The Kyrie is a prayer. The Confiteor is a prayer. In the Gloria, we address God, using “You,” eleven times. The Offertory is a prayer, as is the Preface, the Sanctus, the Our Father, the Agnus Dei.

Please take a moment to consider the language of what we officially call a prayer, namely, Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman Canon):

To You, therefore most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord…
Remember, Lord, Your servants…
In communion with those whose memory we venerate, we ask that through their merits and prayers, in all things we may be defended by Your protecting help…
Therefore, Lord, we pray: graciously accept this oblation…
Be pleased, O God, we pray…
On the day before He was to suffer…to You, O God, His almighty Father, giving You thanks…
Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial of the blessed Passion…of Christ, Your Son, our Lord…
Be pleased to look upon these offerings…
In humble prayer we ask You, almighty God…
Remember also, Lord, your servants…
[G]rant some share and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs…
[A]dmit us, we beseech You, into their company…
Through Whom [Jesus] You continue to make all these good things, O Lord…
Through Him, and with Him, and in Him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is Yours, for ever and ever. Amen.

Below is the Nicene Creed in language in the form of a prayer. I most definitely do not suggest that we depart from the language of approved liturgical texts, a mandate in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (“GIRM”) (see Paragraphs 67-69, specifically devoted to the Creed), but I respectfully recommend that the proper Church authorities consider and approve such language in the future. I also recommend we use language like this for our prayers outside Mass. Our fathers and mothers in the Faith, from 325 A.D. on, bequeathed us not only a creed, but a prayer.

“The Nicene Prayer” — the Nicene Creed in the Form of a Prayer Addressing the Most Holy Trinity

I believe in You, the one God,
the Father almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in You, the one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of You, Father, before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
consubstantial with You, Father.
Through You all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
You came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit were incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake, You were crucified under Pontius Pilate,
You suffered death and were buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with Your Scriptures.
You ascended into heaven
and are seated at the right hand of You, Father.
You will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and Your kingdom will have no end.
I believe in You, Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver, of life.
You proceed from You, Father and Son.
You, with the Father and Son, are adored and glorified.
You have spoken through the prophets.

I believe in Your one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess Your one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come with You. Amen.

James M. Thunder has left the practice of law but continues to write. He has published widely, including a Narthex series on lay holiness. He and his wife Ann are currently writing on the relationship between Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope) and lay people.

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